Half-hearted implementation of the State government’s Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS) by the Kochi Corporation means that beneficiaries and work days are scarce this year.
The action plan chalked out by the Corporation for the 2019-20 financial year set an ambitious target of providing 6,83,718 work days at a cost of ₹24.43 crore.
But Sindhu Unni, a resident of Palluruthy who has had an AUEGS job card almost since the scheme’s inception in 2011, said that this year, the ward’s 10 beneficiaries have not yet clocked in any work days. “I had around 60 days spill over from the previous financial year into April and May 2019. Work last year (drain cleaning) had been allotted only in March and we could not complete it before the end of the financial year,” she said. She is expecting a similar situation this year and is hoping that after the dry spell, worked would be allotted soon, before the end of the financial year.
The work had dwindled a bit after the AUEGS was merged with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), which seeks to benefit the homeless and the landless, Ms. Unni pointed out. Assuming that PMAY beneficiaries participated in the construction of their homes, 90 days of wages at a rate of ₹271 per day was being provided to each beneficiary as an additional benefit after the two schemes were converged in 2018, said S. Subodh, AUEGS project officer for the State.
The convergence had switched the focus of the scheme from generating employment to disbursing funds to PMAY beneficiaries, said AUEGS officials at the Corporation. Each PMAY beneficiary is being given ₹24,390 after the third phase of house construction. Of the targeted crores, only ₹56 lakh, allotted by the State, was spent so far by the corporation this year, and a large chunk went to PMAY beneficiaries, they said.
People with AUEGS job cards, almost 90% women, are usually allotted work like cleaning canals, drains and ponds, and planting trees. This financial year, the corporation has provided 60,162 work days, out of which only 3,113 days were to AUEGS beneficiaries not linked to PMAY. Only 23 beneficiaries this year had received 100 days of work, mostly for cleaning school premises as per government order late in 2019, and for a few other cleaning jobs.
Despite ₹75 crore being laid out for AUEGS in the 2019-20 State budget, officials at the Corporation attributed the poor implementation of the scheme to a shortage of funds. “Additional amounts are allotted based on the percentage of utilisation of the funds given,” Mr. Subodh said. While ₹56 lakh had been disbursed by the State this year, none was given last year, the officials said. The 2020-21 State budget has hiked the amount for the scheme to ₹100 crore.
Around 6,130 people, including PMAY beneficiaries, have been given job cards under the scheme, but several were inactive, particularly in the central areas of the city where there were no active workers, the officials said. Of the 56 workers who had initially registered, only 16 were now active in Tharebhagam, said Preethy K. H., councillor representing the area.
Regular allotment of work could ensure people remained active, said V. P. Chandran, councillor representing Chambakkara. “The scheme is an important one for the State but the corporation has failed in its implementation. Funds will be disbursed by the State only if a percentage of already allocated funds is used up. The scheme could have been put to use for creating rainwater harvesting pits or even for solid waste management. But the funds now are going to PMAY beneficiaries and there is little job creation involved,” he said.
A.B. Sabu, who was, till recently, the Welfare Standing Committee chairperson, said that the scheme’s performance hinged on the willingness of workers. There were only around 300 active workers in the city, he said.
Ritty Sebastian, a resident of Nazreth near Mattancherry, has held a job card for six years and is all praise for the scheme which has brought several women out for paid work. But the wage, still at ₹271 per day — same as that under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — with an additional ₹5 as transport allowance if workers are required to travel, is meagre considering high expenses in the city, she said.